The life of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) is an exemplary one for Muslims in all matters of spiritual and worldly life. No important facet of life has been excluded in the sunnah (teachings, deeds and sayings of prophet Mohammed-peace be upon him) which have been verbally recorded by his companions. Likewise, food has been given importance in the sunnah for Muslims to understand the importance of good nutrition for optimal health. In this article I explore some of the types of food that our beloved prophet enjoyed, and summarize the main benefits of each food from a nutritional standpoint.
Meat contains bio-available protein that the body can use to produce antibodies to fight infection, thus strengthening immunity. Meat is needed for cell repair and growth, and provides all the essential amino acids which cannot be found in plant or dairy sources in isolation. Meat is rich in iron, which is used for the production of hemoglobin that transports oxygen to different parts of the body. The zinc found in meat helps in metabolism and the selenium content breaks down the fat in the body. Vitamins A,D and E which are found in meat promote strong vision, bones and teeth, and maintain the skin’s health and integrity. Meat is therefore a complete food essential to life.
Honey is a natural sweetener with loads of antioxidants. Honey is made up of fructose and glucose, vitamins, minerals and amino acids. It is fat-free, cholesterol-free and sodium-free. It is an excellent source of ready energy as the glucose and fructose enter the bloodstream directly providing energy for endurance exercises like long-distance running or tramping. Honey is believed to act like a natural vaccine because the small amounts of pollen in it can trigger an immune response producing antibodies. Repeated exposure reduces the chances of allergic reaction. A 2011 study found the antioxidants in honey to boost menopausal women’s memory, and may be used in alternative therapy to treat hormone-related cellular damage. Honey has also long been used as a cough suppressant and a sleep aid, and in the treatment of skin conditions like dandruff and dermatitis and for healing wounds and burns, acting as an antibacterial and anti-fungal barrier. Honey is therefore a multi-functional and delicious super food.
Dates have been cultivated since 6000 B.C. They come in several varieties and can be eaten fresh and dried. Dates offer many health benefits, including a high fibre content and trace nutrients like Potassium, Copper, Manganese, Magnesium, and Vitamin B6. Dates promote digestive health, have anti-inflammatory properties, aid heart health and reduce stroke risk due to the high Magnesium and Potassium content. While the role of dates has not been proven widely with regard to childbirth, they are believed to reduce rates of induction during labor. Vitamin B6 is known to enhance brain function and memory and hence dates are a good food source for this function. However, since they are high in sugar, diabetics should watch their intake of dates.
Figs grow on the Ficus Tree which is part of the Mulberry family. Figs have a high fibre content which helps in weight loss and digestive health. They help lower blood pressure because of their Potassium content. The leaves of the fig tree help lower the insulin needed by diabetics who need insulin injections. Animal studies have shown the potential of fig leaves to lower the level of triglycerides and also inhibited the growth of some cancer cells. This research is at its developmental stage, but so far the results are promising.
Melon or cantaloupe contains a wide variety of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, including the carotenoids alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin; the flavonoid luteolin; the organic acids ferulic and caffeic acid; and two cucurbitacins—cucurbitacin B and cucurbitacin E.
Cantaloupe is an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids) and vitamin C. It is also a very good source of potassium and a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B1, vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, copper, and vitamin K.
Grapes contain antioxidants called polyphenols which may prevent or inhibit certain cancers such as lung, mouth, phaynx, prostate and colon. Grapes have a high fibre content, so they aid in treating constipation and promote weight loss and digestive health. The flavonoid quercetin found in grapes is anti-inflammatory and is believed to protect against the damage caused by cholesterol. The potassium content in grapes helps prevent loss of muscle mass and bone density, and a reduction in the formation of kidney stones.
Barley is a grain which is a very good source of molybdenum, manganese, dietary fiber, and selenium, and a good source of copper, vitamin B1, chromium, phosphorus, magnesium, and niacin. When barley is digested it provides food for the “friendly” intestinal bacteria. The bacteria ferment barley’s insoluble fibre forming a fatty acid called ‘butyric acid’. This acid keeps the cells of the large intestine healthy and help maintain the functionality of the colon. Barley’s fiber is high in a substance called ‘beta glucan’ which binds to bile acids removing them via faeces, lowering cholesterol and maintaining healthy liver function.
Milk offers an excellent source of calcium, which is necessary for strong bones and teeth. Cow’s milk provides potassium, which is related to lower blood pressure and reduced risk for heart disease. Cow’s milk is usually fortified with Vitamin D in developed countries. Vitamin D is associated with the production of Serotonin, a hormone that regulates mood, sleep and appetite. In many Arab countries, goat’s milk is more commonly available. In composition, goat’s milk is more similar to human milk compared to cow’s milk. It is therefore more readily digestible, even among individuals who have an intolerance to lactose.
Pomegranates are high in antiviral and antioxidant properties, and offer Vitamins A, C and E as well as folic acid. Pomegranates aid good blood circulation, promote healthy skin, protect against dental plaque and supply iron to the blood. The leaves and bark of the plant is very useful in the remedy of digestive problems including diarrhea. Pomegranates may also delay, or prevent, the onset of Alzheimer’s disease among older people. Pomegranate is truly a super fruit.
- Olive oil
Olive oil is the mainstay of a Mediterranean diet, a diet which is one of the healthiest diets in the world. Olive oil contains oleocanthal, a phytonutrient, is an anti-inflammatory agent as is known to reduce the risk of breast cancer and malignant melanoma. Recent research has also shown that oleocanthal reduces risk of Alzheimer’s disease in older individuals. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, and like other nut and seed oils, protects against the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. In addition, it increases arterial function, reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease.
Vinegar has been used for its healing properties since 400 B.C. It may be used as a weight-loss aid as the acetic acid in it slows the accumulation of fat. Vinegar lowers blood sugar and cholesterol. The potassium and amino acids in vinegar (especially apple cider vinegar or ACV) boost energy when a little added to a glass of water and drunk instead of a chemical-filled energy drink. The antibacterial properties of ACV can be used to clear out sinuses, treat a sore throat and to relieve intestinal cramps.
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